GLENDALE – Thousands of miles from home, Coyotes defenseman John Moore is feeling like a young rink rat from Winnetka, Ill., all over again.
Moore, 24, says he and his Team USA teammates have been living Groundhog Day-like lives in the industrial city of Ostrava, Czech Republic, over the past two weeks, eating and breathing hockey at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.
"We’re staying right across the street from the rink so everyday has been pretty much the same – hotel, hockey rink, hotel," Moore said Wednesday. "But it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been really cool playing with guys from other NHL teams, and playing for your country is such a huge honor and something that I take a lot of pride in. It’s really special every time I step on the ice."
|John Moore. Photo by Getty Images. |
Team USA posted a 5-1-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record in the preliminary round of the 16-nation tournament to capture top honors in Group B and advance to the quarterfinals. On Thursday, the Americans – who have not won the World Championship title since 1960 – will play Switzerland at 6:15 a.m. (AZ time). The game will be televised live on NBC Sports Network and also streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra.
Paired with Coyotes teammate Connor Murphy, Moore has notched one assist in seven games and has taken six shots on goal.
The annual tournament, as always, is being staged on Olympic-sized ice sheets, which are 15 feet wider than NHL sheets. It’s a much more challenging game for defensemen with regards to setting gaps, reading rushes, jumping into plays, etc. Moore, who is learning all this on the job, says he has been relying on his skating skills to help him adjust.
"This is the first time I’ve been exposed to the larger sheet and it’s a completely different game," Moore said. "There are certain nuances that take a little bit of getting used to. You can’t get caught in no man’s land."
Team USA is a young team – the average age on the roster is 24.3 years. And yet, the Americans have surprised tournament observers with solid play. A noteworthy 4-2 win over Russia in the preliminary round still is the talk of the tournament as the event enters its final weekend. On the flip side, a 5-2 loss to Belarus three days later left observers scratching their heads.
"We’ve had highs and lows," Moore said. "This tournament is tough. You basically all come together at an airport and get introduced to each other and then you go play some games. We’ve had some bumps along the road. But the staff here has been great. We’re a really young team and I think we’ve gotten better every game. The loss to Belarus was a little bit of a hiccup after a big win against the Russians. But our goal is to win the gold medal. I think you sell yourself short if you think about achieving anything less than that. At the same time, that can be dangerous. You can’t go into a quarterfinal game thinking about a gold medal. We have a tough opponent in the Swiss on Thursday and we need to have that one-game-at-a-time mentality."
Moore and Murphy played together almost exclusively over the final two weeks of the regular season with the Coyotes, and USA Head Coach Todd Richards wisely has paired them in Ostrava.
"It definitely helps build that relationship after playing together with the Coyotes,” Murphy said. "You get a chance to understand someone better -- not just as a player but as a person."
Moore, whom like Murphy is a first-round NHL draft pick, agrees.
"I think our games really complement each other and we get along really well off the ice, too," Moore said. "We understand each other's games and where we are on the ice. To play with someone you’re familiar with, especially on the bigger sheet of ice, is definitely worth its wait in gold. It’s awesome having a friendly face over here."
Thursday (all times listed are AZ times)
USA vs. Switzerland, 6 a.m.
Canada vs. Belarus, 7 a.m.
Sweden vs. Russia, 10 a.m.
Finland vs. Czech Republic, 11 a.m.